The rule of law


After the Israelites heard the words of the Ten Commandments in last week’s reading, they told Moses that they’d had enough of hearing directly from God.  “You go talk to God; we’re staying a safe distance away!” (Exodus 20:19, roughly paraphrased).  But in this week’s reading, Moses repeats to the people all of the myriad, detailed laws that he has learned from God on the mountaintop.  Why does Moses insist that all of the Israelites–not just their leaders and judges–have such thorough knowledge of the law?  First, one of the Jewish legal system’s central messages is that everyone, even kings, is subject to the law; the scope of the rule of law is complete.  Second, it is not just the responsibility of judges and other authorities to make sure that the law is followed.  We each have the obligation not only to follow the law ourselves but also to make sure that others do so, and to call out violations even from our highest leaders.  To labor together to follow a system of law that is not the whim of one human being but binding over all–this is the Jewish vision of the workings of a just society, the same vision we must insist applies to the larger society in which we live.